Vehicular homicide laws in Massachusetts include homicide by operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs (OUI). Defendants in these tragic cases face a wide range of punishments that are possible upon a conviction. The difference in jail or prison time largely depends on how the state charges you, and whether they can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you were driving under the influence at the time of the car accident.
Vehicular Homicide Laws
A car crash resulting in someone’s death is the most horrific car accident possible. In the aftermath, the urge to assign blame is strong. District attorneys will use Massachusetts vehicular homicide laws to attempt to answer these questions: Who caused the death? Who is responsible for the accident?
Law enforcement will investigate the accident scene, talk to witnesses and question survivors about what happened. If the responding officers believed you were drinking, they requested a blood or breath sample from you after arresting you for DUI / OUI.
If you were transported to a hospital to get checked out, police detectives may have arrived with or without a search warrant for your blood to take a DUI blood test.
If you tested positive for a breath or blood alcohol level above or close to the legal limit of .08%, you can be charged with vehicular homicide by DUI.
If witnesses, your own admissions and other evidence points to driving while drunk or high, you can be charged with homicide by OUI or negligent operation even if you were not arrested and tested immediately after the accident.
Vehicular Homicide Charges
Homicide by a motor vehicle can be prosecuted using elements of reckless driving behavior as well as elements of negligence. Negligence is often indicated by driving under the influence of alcohol, marijuana or narcotic drugs.
Negligence is considered established if prosecutors prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you were intoxicated at the time of the accident. You will need a DUI defense lawyer experienced in fighting OUI homicide cases to contest all evidence of intoxication.
Massachusetts has two main offenses under which the state can bring criminal charges for a DUI accident resulting in death:
1. Vehicular Homicide While OUI AND While Operating Recklessly
DUI manslaughter can be a felony conviction if the state proves all elements:
- The defendant was driving with a blood-alcohol level of .08 or higher; or
- Was driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and
- Operated the vehicle recklessly or negligently, and
- Such operation caused another’s death.
Manslaughter is unintentional or accidental homicide. To defend against vehicular manslaughter charges, an independent investigation is necessary so that all potential causes of the accident come to light. Read this case and you will begin to understand how other people’s behavior can directly impact major accidents.
2. Homicide by Vehicle
Under M.G.L. Ch90 §24G(b), you can be found guilty of misdemeanor motor vehicle homicide if state prosecutors prove that you were either OUI, or driving recklessly, or driving negligently; and that any of these behaviors caused another’s death.
The minimum jail time if convicted of misdemeanor manslaughter is 30 days, up to a maximum of 2.5 years. Alternatively, the judge may sentence a penalty fine of from $300 to $3,000; or the last sentencing option of both jail time and a fine.
Vehicular Homicide Sentence
A vehicular homicide sentence will depend upon how the state chooses to charge you, and how many offense elements the state is able to prove to a jury.
Felony DUI manslaughter carries a mandatory minimum of 5 years prison time, up to a maximum of 20 years. However, the prosecution must prove every element of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt in order to reach a conviction.
Defending Against a Vehicular Homicide Charge
Offers for probation and community service in lieu of jail time could be made if your defense lawyer works aggressively to uncover the underlying mistakes and flawed assumptions in the state’s evidence and case against you.
If your OUI defense attorney is successful in seriously weakening the prosecutor’s case, you could:
- Receive a light sentence
- Be offered a lesser offense plea deal
- Have most or all of the charges against you dismissed, or
- Win an acquittal.
A highly qualified criminal defense lawyer will work intelligently and aggressively to prevent a conviction. One of the best tips I know of is to look for an experienced trial defense lawyer who specializes in forensics and the science of OUI defenses.